Homegrown Adaptations Of Jane Austen’s Most Seminal Classics In Indian Cinema

(L) Aisha; Emma (R)
(L) Aisha; Emma (R) (L) imdb.com; amazon.com (R)

With Netflix’s newest Austen adaptation, ‘Persuasion’ hitting our screens this week, it joins the ranks of other adaptations through the years. Based on Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion follows Anne Elliot through her journey of self-acceptance. Austen-mania really took off after her death, with her novels covering universal themes of love, family, and femininity. With characters that lent themselves excellently to being adapted to screen and stage, as well as to modern adaptations of the novels, these versions were able to stay relatable and current.

Most Austen adaptations were of the rom-com genre and were obviously targeted at women, but without being condescending, considering that the original source material was written by a woman for women. The Indian film industry was not immune to this Austen-mania either, though not quite to the levels that Hollywood has managed to reach. Through just three movies, the Indian film industry has managed to cover three of Austen’s most well-known works — Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. Let’s explore them.

Image Courtesy: @sonamkapoor

I. Emma / Aisha
Published in 1815, the novel follows the story of Emma, a young girl who fancies herself a matchmaker. What follows are the adventures of youthful miscreancy and romantic tribulations. The first and most recent adaptation of the novel in India is Rajshree Ojha’s 2010 film Aisha, starring Sonam Kapoor as the protagonist. Set in contemporary Indian society, Aisha takes its cues from the 1999 Hollywood film ‘Clueless’. As with many Bollywood movies, it takes opulence, romance, and fun to the limit. Sonam Kapoor might as well be a real-life Emma, as her young, carefree persona shines through. Though both the novel and the movie seem lighthearted at the surface, it goes deeper and points out the class differences between Aisha/Emma and Shefali/Harriet, and comments on the social narratives and interactions between the two.

Image Courtesy: intheirownleague.com

II. Pride and Prejudice / Bride and Prejudice
Arguably Austen’s most famous novel, and probably the most adapted, Pride and Prejudice is the iconic enemies-to-lovers story between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Just one year before the iconic 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie was released, iconic director Gurinder Chadha released her own version, Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood musical based on the novel by Jane Austen. The movie follows Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Lalita Bakshi (i.e. Elizabeth), and Martin Henderson as Darcy through an extremely camp and anachronistic lens, making the movie fun to watch and easy to relate to the characters. We find comparisons between the book and a traditional Indian household, with the four daughters growing up to be more modern than their conservative mother, especially when being told to ‘behave’ and ‘not say something too intelligent’, specifically to Rai Bachchan’s character.

Image Courtesy: indianexpress.com

III. Sense and Sensibility / Kandukondain Kandukondain
Possibly the most sombre of the three is Sense and Sensibility, a coming-of-age novel following the Dashwood sisters, as they grow up to develop both sense and sensibility. Our version is a Tamil movie from 2000, also starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, along with Tabu, Mammootty, and Ajith Kumar. The story follows two sisters, Sowmya and Meenakshi who fall in love with two men, Manohar and Bala, respectively. Directed by Rajiv Menon, the movie was a success at the box office and has been released with subtitles across the world. ‘Kandukondain Kandukondain’ loosely translates to ‘I have found it’, and through a series of miscommunications, the two couples are reunited at the end of the movie (and the book). However, we must say that this particular movie version might have an edge over the book, thanks to the masterfully crafted A.R Rahman soundtrack, with playback singer Shankar Mahadevan’s voice filling up our ears with its rich timbre.

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